Faithful observation and un-biased analysis would say: ‘The distinction between politics and religion was not discovered but invented.’ The whole project’s evil genius is, when you divorce the moral, ethical and spiritual dimension from statecraft then Religion is expected to play a passive and respectable role, aiding and abetting if you will — just there to bless and sprinkle Holy Water on the actions of the State. As long as the religious teaching doesn’t challenge the actions of the state, then all will be happy. But the moment questions are raised, religious bodies become alive and vocal, as has happened in Latin American countries.1 Then, and only then, does religion become a danger, viewed even as a subversive power against the Pharaoh’s of this world.
There is also, as we know, the strange amalgam called the state religion. State puts its authority behind a chosen sect and gives it primacy over other religious bodies. In return, this chosen sect rubber stamps its spiritual cloak over the actions or inactions of the state. The classic example is, just before a territory-expansion/colonising war, this chosen sect can hoodwink the masses by declaring it to be a Just War or even a Holy War. The trickery is, people often don’t ‘see’ the subtle politicking of a state religion. State is left here, by hook or by crook, “to impersonate God.” William Cavanaugh observed in Torture And Eucharist, ‘As the state itself becomes guarantor of rights, human rights become tied, in bitter irony, to the security of the state.’
Buddhism is state religion in the failed state of Sri Lanka. The divisive theology of the Buddha Sangha is the back-bone of the state. Sangha not only believes in the primacy of Buddhism in Sri Lanka, (as is enshrined in the Constitution) but also it believes that Lanka is the chosen land for a chosen race called the Sinhalas.2 The Tamils (Demelu) are viewed as the contaminating element3 Angarika Dharmapala (1864-1933) the political activist/ scholar-monk preached the uniqueness of the land and the Sinhala nation. He promoted the idea that the Sinhalas were a pure Aryan race.4
So, the Sri Lankan state is well and truly a Sinhala-Buddhist state and there is no leg room for the flourishing of pluralism.
It is risible for western governments to expect the Sinhala state to guarantee the safety of human rights of the Tamils. Since the 1950’s there have been a series of state-sponsored pogroms and secret colonisation of the traditional homelands of Ceylon Tamils.5 Since the 1980’s there has been an unceasing war against the Tamils. Over 80,000 civilians have died and many more maimed. (There is “no official figure” as such, but this figure is generally accepted by HR organisations.)
It is in this context, the idea of Tamil Eelam has to be examined. If the result of a self-determination struggle claims back the traditional Tamil home-land as the sovereign state, then, that cannot be a criminal idea. The question is: can Tamil Eelam and the Sinhala state remain within the confines of a sovereign Sri Lanka in a twin-state solution?
- Archbishop Oscar Romero, “The Last Sermon,” from The Church and Human Liberation, March 14, 1980. [↩]
- Stanley Jeyaraja Tambiah, Buddhism Betrayed? The University of Chicago Press, 1992. This book was banned in Sri Lanka. [↩]
- Urimila Phandis, Religion and Politics in Sri Lanka. London: C. Hurst and Co., 1974. [↩]
- Lawrence J Swier, Sri Lanka: War-Torn Island. World in conflict series. [↩]
- A. Sivanandan, “Sri Lanka: racism and the politics of underdevelopment,” Race and Class Journal, Summer 1984. [↩]